The Missouri Reader Vol. 41, Issue 2 - Page 17


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Severrvallo, J. (2017). The Writing Strategies Book. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann

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During his 43-year career in education Dr. Sam Bommarito taught every grade K through graduate school, primarily in Title 1 buildings as a reading specialist and staff

developer. Although he retired in 2015, he continues to be active in the literacy world as co-editor of The Missouri Reader and board member of the state and local IRA, as well as various volunteer contributions.

Dr. William Kerns is an Assistant Professor of Education at Harris-Stowe State University. Dr. Kerns worked in Central Florida as a high school reading teacher, reading specialist, English teacher, and a

curriculum specialist prior to entering higher education.

Try Alternative Ways to Check for Comprehension

One concern that is currently being raised by Burkins and Yaris (2016) is the overuse of multiple-choice based questions when assessing comprehension. Our view is that multiple choice questions have a role, especially when doing summative assessments for large groups. However, their use in ongoing assessments should be limited to giving students enough exposure to them, so they are able to handle this form of questioning when they meet them in the various standardized testing that seems to have become the norm in today’s literacy programs

We recommend teachers use formative assessments while considering the cognitive and affective aspects of reading comprehension including motivation (Gambrell, 2011; Sweet & Snow, 2003). Kerns (2018) addresses formative assessment strategies in this issue of The Missouri Reader. Oczkus (2010) in her book, Reciprocal Teaching at Work K-12 Powerful Strategies and Lessons for Improving Reading Comprehension gives life to the lessons used to teach students the reciprocal teaching process (Palincsar & Brown, 1985). Oczkus includes numerous alternative ways to assess comprehension.

Google Classroom provides a digital platform in which students and teachers can interact and share ideas about books and articles. In their book Amplify, Muhtaris & Ziemke (2015) give numerous specific ideas on how technology can be used including how it can be used to assess student understanding. They suggest the use of programs like See Saw that allow students to create videos critiquing or promoting books they’ve read. Such videos can be shared with other students, parents and the teacher within the secure confines of the platform (parent permissions required!). Teachers can create Interactive Digital Reading walls to replace reading logs or books read lists. These are just a few of the host of ideas contained in the book.

Harrison and Fresch’s book 7 Keys to Research for Writing Success also addresses the issue of how students collaborate digitally to gather, organize and share questions for inquiry and then write about those questions. The book’s ideas lend themselves to use in a workshop setting and provides ideas for assessing comprehension through a variety of activities by researching online.

Teachers can teach reading strategies through the writing process. One of the activities we used over the years was to remind students that often time writers show rather than tell. This activity helped students learn how to draw inferences and how to look for the clues that form the key to understanding inferences. After immersing students in passages where writers were showing the reader rather than telling the reader, students were then asked to create and share their own examples of “show don’t tell” passages. It was a pleasant surprise to find that Serravallo (2017), in her The Writing Strategies book, included lessons like Show Don’t Tell: Using Senses (p. 224) and Show Don’t Tell: Emotions (p. 224).

Teachers can use resources like Serravallo’s The Reading Strategies Book (2015) and Serravallo’s The Writing Strategies Book (2017) to search for ideas that might help students who struggle with specific issues within the areas of comprehension and learning to problem solve words. Taken together, the books contain 600 lesson ideas that include all the support materials needed by the teacher. Her indexing methods make it easy to find the reading/writing lesson that best fits the needs of a child or group. Perhaps that is why Serravallo's works have been on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

Use Online Resources to Inform Instruction

Teachers have long used online resources like in order to get ideas for whole group lessons. More recently, support communities have formed online that include teachers who share their ideas and experiences in real time. Among the best of these is the Facebook page The Reading and Writing Strategies Book Community, a public group of almost 30,000 teachers. Teachers can join this group using their Facebook profile. We’ve found teachers in this group post many “nuts and bolts” kind of questions about teaching: debating the usefulness of specific programs, how to carry out particular kinds of programs, and best materials to use for particular instruction. Germane to our current topic is that many of the postings on this site include questions like “I have a second grade student who is not <problem area> and I’ve